For a brief moment, I had no destination in mind. I fell through the darkness without any signs of stopping. I couldn’t face Ice. Anyone else from my past wouldn’t evoke this uncontrolled dread. Temperance Alessandra herself could have found me, and I wouldn’t lose control like this. I’d run. Anyone in my situation would. But it would have been a calculated move, not a drop into the void without thinking. Ruby’s grip tightened to the point of hurting my hand. The pain brought me back to myself. I found a shadow in our room, and I pulled us back to the world. We landed on the couch; at least Ruby did. I landed on the edge and fell gracelessly to the ground. Umbra cushioned my fall, not that it would have registered much either way. The urge to run was still strong. If I’d sensed him, he could have sensed me. He knew me better than any living person. If he knew I was here, he’d find me.
“What the hell just happened?” Ruby asked. “Where were we?”
I opened my mouth to answer her but couldn’t make the words come out.
“Are you okay, E?” she asked. I looked at her, confused. How had she known what Ice called me? “I’m not calling you, Erebus. It’s pretentious as hell.”
“I didn’t pick it,” I said.
“Of course not, I read more than your file. The Coven loves their little code names. Pretty smart of them not to keep your real names on file, though. Nice try at distracting me. What happened?” she asked again. I hadn’t been trying to distract her with my confusion. I assumed she knew my name. Agent Boone knew it, and she’d presumably hacked him at some point to know he was tracking both of us. I wasn’t ready to give her my real name if she hadn’t already found it.
“I felt the magic of someone I knew when I was training,” I said.
“It was more than that, though. I’ve seen you under pressure. You’re calm and strategic. You wouldn’t have gotten away from them if panicking like that was your normal reaction. You don’t have to tell me everything, but I need to know that you’re in control.”
“They call him Icelus because of his strength with dream magic. I called him Ice. He was the only friend I held onto once we started training as hunters. Everyone else was jealous, scared, or both,” I said.
“He turned on you in the end?” she asked.
“He tried to turn me in,” I said. I could still imagine the shock on his face. He’d seen the blood pouring out of Vincent’s neck, covering my floor, my shoes, my knife, my hands. The same fear I saw in so many of my peers’ eyes reflected in his that night. I didn’t get a chance to explain before the alarms went off.
“Why did you do it?” Ruby looked like she regretted the question as soon as she asked. I considered lying or staying silent.
“Vincent killed my mother. I didn’t know it at the time. He presented himself as my savior, tragically a little too late. I was only seven. I didn’t know anything about magic other than I had it, and my mom wanted me to keep it a secret,” I told her. It was time for a leap of faith. She’d trusted me to deal with the pyromancer and keep her safe. There was still a lot for both of us to learn about each other, but I had to start fighting the desire to hide things from her if we were going to make this work.
“I’m sorry. Maybe this isn’t the right thing to say,” she hesitated but seemed to feel that we needed to talk about this at some point. “Was it worth it?”
“Yes. If I saved even one kid from ending up like I did, it was worth it.”
“You expected a different answer?”
“I’ve heard that killing someone with your magic makes you go dark,” she said.
“It’s not as simple as that. Killing someone with magic gives you a taste for dark magic, to be sure. It doesn’t take away your ability to choose, though. Also, I didn’t kill him with magic, not technically. I may have gotten to him with my magic, but I killed him with a knife,” I said.
“That seems so arbitrary,” she said. I shrugged.
“I don’t make the rules.”
“So, this guy, Ice, he caught you and sounded the alarm. And he’s the reason you panicked?” She asked. There was another question in her eyes.
“He wasn’t just my friend. He was my future—the future I wanted before I found out what Vincent did. The Coven is a lot of things, but they aren’t closed-minded about sexuality. Ice and I could have been together if I’d never run. They would have supported and even encouraged our relationship. They know the power of giving a home to an outcast. He’s my only regret. Part of me wished I’d loved him enough to do something different. I don’t know what. Even if they had high hopes for me, there was no way the other senior members of the Coven would have chosen me over Vincent.”
“Did your guy know what Vincent did?”
“No,” I said. I’ve never told Ice. There was a point where I could have, but I didn’t want him to talk me out of it. Maybe he would have run with me, but it was bad enough that I was ruining my future. I didn’t want to take him down with me.
“Do we need to worry about him coming to find us? I mean, if you had the magic equivalent of a panic attack because of your feelings for him, how do we know he isn’t harboring similar feelings? Is there any chance he sensed you before you got us out of there?” she asked.
“It’s possible. The more time witches spend together, the easier it is for us to sense each other’s magic. If I could feel him as clearly today as the day I ran, he might have sensed me. The convention floor was busy, though. Maybe he was too distracted with the crowds,” I said.
“That’s too much uncertainty for my liking,” she said. She got up and went into the bedroom. I got off the floor and followed her.
“What are you doing?”
“A hotel this nice will have a decent security system. The better the system is, the easier it is for me to find out if he’s coming our way,” she said. She pulled out her laptop and was already flipping through the security feeds four at a time before I got close enough to look over her shoulder.
“You don’t even know what he looks like,” I said.
“Of course I do. Your file wasn’t the only one I read from the Coven’s database,” she reminded me.
I couldn’t keep track of the frames as she flipped through them. It was all blurs of intricate costumes to me. Even with the clear mental image of Ice in my mind, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in the crowds. Somehow Ruby managed it. She stopped on a page that featured the elevator cameras. She zoomed in on one of the four video feeds. Ice was standing to the right side of the car. He looked larger than I remembered. He’d always been tall, but now he was broad enough to be intimidating. The rest of the elevator’s passengers looked nervous, especially those closest to him. That told me he was coming to us alone. None of the uncomfortable faces around him belonged to witches who knew what he was capable of doing. We had to choose quickly. Either I would face him for the first time in years, or we were about to run from Georgia faster than we’d gotten out of Florida.